By the Rev. Cara Scriven | Tacoma District Superintendent
[dropcap type=”1″]T[/dropcap]his morning one of my youngest daughters asked, “Mom, is it Fall yet?” I responded with, “Yes, it is Fall.” I know this partly because it is cooler in the mornings and the grass in our front yard is greening as it gets a reprieve from the hot summer sun. However, I wouldn’t need to step outside to know that Autumn has arrived. I would only need to pay attention to my body.
Over the last few weeks that body has gotten increasingly tense as I prepared to send my eldest daughter to Middle School for the first time and my youngest children to Kindergarten. These normal transitions coupled with a move over the summer for our family has left my shoulders as knotted up as Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, my breath, too short and shallow, and my emotions as grounded as my daughter will be the first time she is caught making out with a boy. Simply put, this year, the fall for me is full of anxiety.
[pull_quote_right]For many churches, the season has brought with it a decrease in membership and worship attendance, fewer younger families and youth, and less financial resources to do much about it.[/pull_quote_right]Over the last several decades, the church has become increasingly aware that “Fall” has arrived. We live in a perpetual state of dread akin to the popular television show where, “Winter is (always) Coming.” For many churches, the season has brought with it a decrease in membership and worship attendance, fewer younger families and youth, and less financial resources to do much about it. As I wrote about a few weeks ago, despite trying a variety of different strategies to respond, the church finds itself short of breath, shoulders locked in position, and full of emotional tension.
As the Fall inched closer this year, I needed to remind myself to take a couple deep breaths and take things one step at a time. After all, while Autumn carries with it some measure of anxiety – especially for those reluctant students and overly anxious parents – it also holds a seed of promise and the excitement of new challenges, opportunities to learn, and friendships to be made.
As our churches journey through this time together, it is important that we too take some deep breaths and remind ourselves to take things one step at a time. As we begin this journey again, I suggest the following:
- Practice a Spiritual Discipline EVERYDAY. Spiritual disciplines can include prayer, reading Scripture, meditation, walking, praying the daily office, centering prayer, journaling, and creative works of art and music. Almost anything can be a spiritual discipline as long as we do it with the intention of connecting with the Divine.
- Join a Small Group. Small groups can be formed with colleagues, friends, or other church members. The purpose of these groups is not to discuss what interests us but rather to hold us accountable to practicing our spiritual disciplines. Again they can take on different forms. In the small group I participate in, we text each other every night to hold each of us accountable to praying and cultivating gratitude in our lives.
Small groups are also helpful in discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When we begin to practice spiritual disciplines, we will hear and feel things we didn’t before. Because of this, we need the experience and reason of others — coupled with the grounding of Scripture and our deep faith tradition — to help us discern where God might be calling us versus our personal preferences, comforts, and cultural biases.
- Take Care of Yourself. Life in the 21st century is busy. We are constantly seeking a better balance between work and life. For many, myself included, it is easier to try to squeeze one more thing in to an already busy schedule than to say no. But when we do, we tune out the Spirit and the needs of others, although not intentionally. If we are going to listen for the Spirit, then we are going to have to learn to stop. To facilitate this, I encourage everyone to take their vacation. If you are clergy, this means taking not only take your vacation but also your yearly spiritual renewal leave. If you are laity, I encourage you to take your vacation as well and consider if you need to take a hiatus from a ministry team or leadership position in your church, particularly if you can’t remember the last time you did so. Vacations aren’t intended to be for long durations but they do give us space to relax, reflect, and consider where God might be leading us next.
[pull_quote_right]Proactively attending to our spiritual well being is an essential part of the healthy life God intends for us and a necessary tool to help reduce our personal and corporate anxiety.[/pull_quote_right]Proactively attending to our spiritual well being is an essential part of the healthy life God intends for us and a necessary tool to help reduce our personal and corporate anxiety. If we begin to attend to these things we learn to regulate our breathe, reduce our anxiety and are more likely to arrive at some clarity for the season that will inevitably follow.
While it is possible to deny and ignore the changing seasons for a time, they rarely comply with our wishes. However, with some practice and boldness, we can best use the Autumns we encounter to remember and honor what we have done in the past, begin to adapt and invest in new ways of faithful practice, and consider and assess the best places for future growth as Spring inevitably arrives.